We talk incessantly about “solving business problems” or of “business solutions.” Marketers love such phrases. But is it possible to solve complex problems?
Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds.
Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.”
The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers.
We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints.
But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.
Credit: Jonah Lehrer
There are no solutions to complex problems. There are always unforeseen or unintended consequences. In other words, there are side-effects.
Sometimes these outcomes are beneficial or a minor annoyance but often they are worse than the problem we are trying to solve.
We can never solve complex problems; we can only ever respond to them in a continuous adaptive way!
Unintended consequences get to the heart of why you never really understand an adaptive problem until you have solved it.
Problems morph and “solutions” often point to deeper problems.
In social life, as in nature, we are walking on a trampoline.
Every inroad reconfigures the environment we tread on.
Credit: The Power of Positive Deviance
We need to stop using the word “solution” as it tends to seduce us into a false sense of security that we can solve complex problems once and for all.
There are no solutions to complex problems – only responses.
- There are no solutions to complex problems – only responses.
- There are no solutions to complex problems. There are always unforeseen or unintended consequences. There are only ever responses.
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